How IT can Empower The Police


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Emmanuel Uzo Obi



This is a very vast and technical subject, but I have avoided the technical aspects to discuss in simple language how IT can empower the Police and other Public Safety agencies to enhance Public safety and improve the quality of life of those that reside in Nigeria and their foreign business partners. Basically, what I have attempted to do is to show with illustrations how Information technology services and solutions can measurably improve the operational efficiency of public safety agencies and enhance the security and safety of the people they serve.


‘Exporting America’ is a term used to describe the export of American jobs to oversea countries particularly Asia including India. This has resulted in the loss of certain kinds of jobs in the United States. The primary reason for this is because of the cheaper labor that these oversea countries offer. Why is Nigeria not a target of these job exporters? Nigeria has very cheap and highly qualified labor force but seemingly unattractive to the Americans. Well the answer is simple, lack of Public safety and general insecurity of lives and property and political uncertainty.


It is interesting to note that the Government of Nigeria is interested in studying Community Policing in the state of Texas. But suffice it to say that Community Policing cannot be successful in Nigeria without IT and other necessary infrastructure.

Community Policing in the U.S is synonymous with the Municipal Police and it remains to be seen how a National Police can involve itself in community policing without a change in the present structure of the Nigeria Police. It is because of the issues involved that I have expanded the scope of this article to include the Structure of the Police and the role of IT. For some insight into some of the recent developments on community policing in England see



 According to information on the Nigeria Police website ,

The present structure is as follows:


-        Force Headquarters

-        Zonal Command

-        State Command

-        Divisional Command

-        Police Station

-        Police Post

-        Village Post


The bulk of Police activity namely Public safety, Law Enforcement takes place at the municipal level. In the United States for example, cities and counties have their own Police departments. In Nigeria, while at this time the country may not be ready for this kind of decentralization, the Government could use the Divisional Command to fill this void. In other words, every city in Nigeria should have a Divisional Command that is structured on the basis of Districts (District Policing). So for operational purposes, each city under a Divisional Command should be divided into districts and personnel and equipment assigned to each district. This will also shorten the Emergency Response time in within each district.

Emergency Response time is the time it takes Public safety agencies to respond to a distress call after a distress call is placed. In the city of Raleigh here in North Carolina it is 3 minutes for emergencies with the highest level of priority .In practice however, it sometimes takes the Police less than a minute to arrive the scene. I will elaborate on this when I discuss how IT can empower the Police.

Typically a Divisional Command should be structured as follows;



This division should handle functions that are non-enforcement in nature such as police training; manage information systems and co-ordinate departmental planning and budgetary functions.

-Field Operations

The primary purpose of this division should be to respond to all calls for service from residents while also providing preventive patrol in of all areas within the jurisdiction of this command. Calls for service are typically generated from the computer assisted communications dispatch centers and from actions initiated by officers themselves.

The city/town where the Divisional Command is responsible should be subdivided into districts with a Police Station as the office base. The personnel in Field operations should also be divided into platoons and assigned to each district and should work rotating schedules. Police presence in these districts should of course be registered in designated areas by patrols on vehicles, horses, motorbikes, bicycles and foot.


-Special Operations

The following units are crucial to the functions of this division, namely,

Ø     Rapid Response (S.W.A.T)

Should respond to high-risk incidents such as barricade subjects, hostage situations and act as entry units in high-risk searches in very dangerous spots.

Ø     Drug Enforcement Unit

Ø     Traffic Enforcement Unit

Ø     Desk Operations Unit

Ø     Domestic Violence Unit

Ø     Crime Prevention Unit – Typically this unit should handle community police relations. This is where the community police concept comes in.

Ø     K- 9 Unit  -Police dogs and officers.



This division should be charged with investigating crimes against persons, and property and other major crimes.

Let us pause for one moment and imagine a Divisional Police Command so structured and equipped, with also the Fire Service and Emergency Medical Service serving each State Capital, City, Town in Nigeria.


Public safety is not entirely the responsibility of the Police. In developed countries, the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Service are all part of the Public Safety apparatus and these are grossly neglected in Nigeria.

The Police is not only a Public safety agency; it is also a law enforcement agency and should perform community services as well. Public safety and law enforcement are roles that in practice often work together depending on the situation. Public safety includes safety on the highways, at home everywhere. Issues relating to public safety most times requires emergency responses.

A characteristic feature of service in U.S. Public Safety agencies is that sometimes their personnel also serve in different arms of the public safety apparatus or in other areas. Remember Dr Charles Moose and the Washington DC Sniper case?He was Police Chief for Montgomery County as well as a Major in the Air National Guard and also a Professor of Criminal Justice.  There are also many Police officers who also serve in the Fire Departments or as Paramedics. How many Policemen in Nigeria can administer CPR for example?


I have examined this subject under the following headings namely, Public Safety Information System, Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Information systems.

The most important resource or tool in Emergency management, administration of justice and crime prevention and control is Information. With I.T, the relevant information will be available to the right people at the right time to support decisions in emergency management, crime prevention and administration of justice.

The good news about all these is that I.T offers solutions in today’s world of limited budgets.

Since 9/11 in the United States, the cell phone has more than ever before emerged as a Public Safety tool. Families need to keep in touch with each other for Public safety concerns. The cell phone is one of the tools that allow the free flow of information needed for decision-making or action. Some time last year in one of the cities in the United States, a group of boys on a boat expedition where trapped on a small patch of land in the middle of a large body of water after their boat capsized. Nobody knew of their predicament, but the where rescued when they placed a 911 call from their cell phone. The Public safety agencies responded within minutes and prevented possible disaster.

Again on a personal note, a few years ago I was so sick that I thought I was going to pass out so I dialed 911 not knowing my roommate (flat mate) was in the living room. The 911 dispatcher asked me if there was any one in the building and I said ‘No’ and within seconds  my roommate emerged to ask what was wrong as there was an ambulance and fire truck in our drive way. I tried to approach the door but passed out as soon as the responders were let into the apartment. I was revived inside the EMS ambulance and the EMS personnel asked me my choice of hospital and I made a choice. The EMS personnel made radio contact with the Emergency room of the hospital, ‘…black male in his late in stable condition etc…’The EMS personnel requested for my full name social security number (national identifier) and asked if I had Health Insurance which I responded in the affirmative.

The key points to note in this incident are as follows;( 1.) the public safety agencies responded in 1 minute.(2) There was a fire truck (3)I was asked for my national identifier and driver license (4) I was asked if I had Health Insurance (5) I had to make the choice of hospital.

Why was the response so rapid? This emergency had the highest priority and was life threatening. The city is divided into districts for the Police, Fire department and even the Emergency Medical Service. When I fully recovered and was released from hospital I was very curious to know how they were able to respond at very short notice. I drove around our neighborhood and noticed that there was a nearby fire station that served our area. I observed the same thing all around the city.

Why the fire truck? I had told the 911 dispatcher that I was by myself and experiencing fainting spells. The fire department has the capability of gaining access into any building,and in case I could not unlock my door,they would have done so with ease.

Why the national identifier? Every person in the U.S. including a child born today is assigned a unique number known as social security number. This information was necessary to the EMS personnel for my identity and also for billing purposes. Even if I did not have the hardcopy of my social security card, giving them the numbers would have sufficed for every persons information is stored in the database of the social security administration. Does the controversial Nigerian national id have a database or is it a mere piece of card?

Why the question on Health Insurance? This was necessary in order to bill the appropriate insurance company. Would lack of Insurance have denied me treatment? NO. It is illegal to deny anybody emergency treatment in the United States. Is emergency treatment therefore free? NO All the information given via my national identifier and driver license would have enabled hospital accounting issue a bill to me and the insurance company accordingly.

Suppose one failed to pay after receiving the medical treatment? The debt will be reported to  credit bureaus all over the United States after several collection attempts have failed and my credit standing would be ruined. Further discussion on this is way beyond the scope of this article.

Why does one have a choice of medical facility? In the U.S. it is the individual that takes charge of decisions relating to medical treatment.

Readers can now see how a simple 911 call led to all these. The public safety agencies responded to save a life because they had information.

Two years ago while returning from work in a city 45 miles from where I live, I had a flat tire on the rear passenger side of my car.  I was on the speed lane in the 5pm heavy traffic. I moved my van safely into the median of the road and there was no way in this world I could have changed the tire in the heat of heavy traffic or even made it out of the spot. I did not dial 911,but instead  dialed *HP (*47) on my mobile phone. HP means Highway Patrol which is the name given our State Police for assistance. Within minutes a big truck from the department of transportation arrived with it’s blinking overhead revolving lamps and partially blocked part of the speed lane to give safe cover and had my tire changed.

911 call? This brings me to the next heading, Public Safety Information System.



Information can flow from the public-to-public safety agencies via Public Safety Communication centers accessible by simply dialing 911. Unfortunately, while the Public is ready to call using cell phones or landline phones, there is no system of receiving and processing these calls and here lies the major problem with Nigeria’s system. So each time the U.S issues a travel advisory to it’s citizens about the state of insecurity in Nigeria, Nigeria’s Information Minister starts whining like the last Iraqi Information Minister of Saddam’s era.

911 Emergency Communications Dispatch Centers

A dispatcher/call taker is the link between the public and the public safety responders such as police officers, paramedics, and firemen.

To complete this link, a dispatcher/call taker must be able to pass on a certain amount of information in order to coordinate responders. Due to a heavy load of requests for assistance (over 100,000 per year in some U.S Counties) and the nature of emergency calls, these calls must be handled in a timely and efficient manner.

All callers are equally important, regardless of whether the request is for a responder or for information. To help determine what type of request they are dealing with, a call taker will ask specific questions which will vary depending on what type of request is being received. For example, when a vehicle accident is being reported, information needed includes an exact location and descriptions of the vehicles involved. This information is invaluable to emergency responders to help them locate the victims quickly. It would seem frustrating for a victim to be able to see the responders on the opposite side of a large parking lot and realize that they cannot find them. When reporting a suspicious person or vehicle, a good description is a vital tool in assisting emergency responders in locating the person or vehicle quickly.

A call taker is often responsible for performing multiple duties at the same time. When a call comes in, the caller's information is typed into a CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system. With this system, the dispatcher receives requests for emergency response while the call taker is still talking with the caller. This allows help to be sent as soon as the location and type of emergency are identified by the call taker while allowing the call taker to remain on the phone, obtaining more detailed information or giving directions to the caller on what they should do until help arrives. Your call taker may also be responsible Dispatcherfor handling other phone calls, radio traffic, relaying information by voice, computer, or radio, or any combination of these.

On requests for information, a call taker will do his/her best to direct callers to the appropriate person or agency. Emergency calls always have priority over information requests and the caller may be asked to hold while an emergency call is handled. Occasionally, there is nothing that the call taker can do for a caller, in these cases an alternate route, if known, will be suggested to the caller.









A fully trained dispatcher/call taker is certified through the U.S State after completing pre-determined areas of training. The dispatcher/call taker must be certified to be able to use the State & National Teletype Computer System. They must also be a certified EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatcher). An EMD is trained to give telephone instructions to callers to aid the victim and control the situation until emergency responders arrive. On the State level in the U.S, there are 4 levels of certification, the qualifications for these depend on the amount and type of training a dispatcher has had and years of experience. Dispatchers must re-certify on EMD and Teletype every two years, this is usually done while they are performing their regular duties.

At full staff, there are 18 dispatcher/call takers and 4 supervisors. The number of staff on duty varies with the time of day. The average number of people on duty is 4-5 when the center is at full staff.

The Nigerian Government may decide to establish these centers on the basis of Senatorial zones in each State or in each Local Government Area, or each town. These dispatch centers receive calls from the public and then route calls to for example command and control of the Police that has a link to radio equipped field officers. Every Police officer in the U.S. usually has a walkie-talkie and each patrol cruiser has a laptop computer. All these underscore the importance of Information to public safety and law enforcement agencies.

I will illustrate one of the many capabilities of a Public Safety Communications Center by using this hypothetical case. Suppose I live on Allen Avenue Ikeja and on the phone with someone in Sabon Gari Kano.Suddenly there is screaming and an alarm on a break in by a gang of robbers in the kano end, phone contact is lost…I can call 911 Ikeja and 911 Ikeja will re-route my call to 911 Kano and I will give all the information, location phone number and brief description of the incident. While the dispatcher is taking the information, the Police is notified instantaneously the dispatcher can call the kano phone number or ‘call interrupt’ if some is on the line to try to establish contact with the victims. This type of situation happens all the time in the real world and only I.T. solutions can empower the Police to act in a very timely manner.

Unfortunately Nigeria does not have this kind of center but the technology is there to help the situation. At present different Police formations give out a series of phone numbers with which they can be contacted. Some of the numbers are not functional while others remain busy (engaged) all the time. Memorizing these numbers is very cumbersome but making an emergency call ought to be as simple as 911. Emergency telephone numbers should never be busy.

On my way to the State of Virginia a couple of months ago, I saw two vehicles that were involved in an accident. Even though I was traveling out of North Carolina, I placed a 911 call from my cell (911 calls are Free) to report the accident. ‘Location of Emergency?’ ‘85 North about 1 mile to the State Line…two vehicles. appears to be a rear end collision’ ‘Any one injured?’ ‘I doubt it’ ‘Someone will be there ASAP’

This kind of situation does not call for an EMS ambulance or Fire truck based on my description to the dispatcher.A Police officer would respond as soon as practicable because there are higher priority calls and this incident calls for police accident paper work necessary for insurance purposes. The good thing about this is that in some Police jurisdictions, accident reports can be downloaded online next day once they are ready.

Those kinds of numbers that our Police give out should as a matter of fact be for non-emergency cases.

Since it took new generation banks to make banking more convenient, efficient and easier through the use of IT applications, who will take the initiative in Public Safety and Emergency Management?


AMBER ALERT SYSTEM: another example of Community Policing.

The amber alert system is a system developed in the U.S. to help track down suspected child kidnappers and rescue the kidnapped child. ‘AMBER’ is the name of a child kidnapped and later found dead in 1996 in the United States. It also means America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.

Once a credible report of a missing child is reported to the Police, an alert is sent to radio and television stations, cable companies and other multiple police jurisdictions to galvanize an entire community adding extra eyes and ears to watch and listen and help the safe return of the missing child and apprehension of the suspect. On Thursday, the 8th of January this year, a man had killed three people in Georgia and escaped with three kids. Immediately the alert was sent out to South Eastern States of Tennesse, South and North Carolina including Georgia with a description of the vehicle and license plate number and brief description of the crime. This information appeared on overhead electronic signs on all highways in the named states and all radio, television stations and cable networks. In a short time, a call came from a motorist and the suspect was arrested after a high-speed chase and the children rescued; this is another example of community policing.


This is a navigational tool that helps locate the position of the user any where in the world.



A critical aspect of any criminal justice and law enforcement information system is a criminal record database. This database usually interfaces with the court judicial system, and of the course the prison system. An integrated criminal justice information system ensures data integrity across the entire system. At present, Nigeria supposedly has a paper based record system. The truth is, Nigeria has no records even though the Police pretend they do by issuing spurious criminal clean bills to citizens who are willing to pay the price. One of the obstacles that the introduction of a CJLEIS will face is that Police officers of the old school will likely oppose it and make the implementation difficul

Earlier on I stated I would avoid a technical discussion of this subject so I have not examined such elements as the Systems Architecture, Functional requirements, Critical dependencies and interfaces and Hardware requirements.

The interdependence of public safety agencies and the public they serve is absolutely fundamental. The goal of any information system is to provide the right information to the right people at the right time and at the right place. I would therefore recommend the following;

·       National Criminal Records Database

·       Court Information System

·       Prisons Information System.

·       Stolen Vehicles Database.

·       Vehicle Registration Database

·       Driver License Database

·       Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

·       Digital Image Storage and Retrieval System (Mug Shots)

·       Police Information Management System


An indispensable requirement is a national identifier that will help identify all persons resident in Nigeria. Each person from a child born today ought to have a unique identifier, which should be a unique set of numbers. In the U.S, it is the social security number.

All vehicles in the United States also have unique numbers known as the Vehicle Registration numbers (VIN). This number is always there to track the history of the vehicle and is also on title documents and even if the car later has a salvage value, the VIN is also on the salvage title. Without the VIN, the vehicle should not be able to be registered.

A court information system maintains records from arrest through trial and disposition of cases and this information system also interfaces with the prisons information system and the National Criminal Records Database.

For example, when an arrest is made, the defendant/suspect gets and copy of the citation from the arresting police officer. The citation includes also the trial date and courtroom number and particulars of the offense. The other copy should go to the court registry and entered into the court system. Every Police officer ought to have court days and the trial date is usually based on the officer’s court dates. Adjournment or continuance of the case is also based on the officer’s future court dates so that the officer is always available for the prosecution team. All these information are recorded in the court system and is public record, which should normally be available, online. The final disposition of the case is also recorded in the criminal records data base showing if the person was discharged and acquitted, the case was dismissed, the person was found not guilty etc.

It is common in the U.S to find in immigration documents such as green card or citizenship applications such questions as “Have you ever been arrested or cited?” Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?” Answers to these questions usually help the officials in evaluating an application and these can be obtained by querying the criminal records database. Criminal records databases can also be used in case analysis and management, which is beyond the scope of this article.

One of the interesting aspects of Law Enforcement in the United States is how a routine traffic stop could lead to a break in an unsolved crime or prevention of a crime. Officers on patrol are usually vigilant and could make minor traffic stops for burnt out tail light, failure to yield, speeding or even driving in between lanes. Once an Officer decides to pull a car over and activates the blue light, he first runs the vehicle license plate number either through his laptop computer or through the two-way radio. Possible outcomes of this query could be that the license tag is a fictitious tag, insurance expired, or even stolen vehicle. Then officer then emerges from his vehicle and approaches the driver demanding his license and vehicle registration. The officer also queries the database with the driver license number. Possible outcomes include the driver is a fugitive, there is a pending arrest warrant or the driver license is suspended or revoked.

How do the Police know that vehicle insurance has expired? In North Carolina for example, the law requires all motorists to maintain continuous liability insurance on all operable vehicles. Further, if an insurance lapses, the law requires the insurance company to notify the division of motor vehicles. The DMV begins by writing the driver to furnish proof of continuous insurance within a specified time after which the license tag could be suspended or revoked. If this happens, this information is inputted into the system and any officer can access this information. So the idea of our Nigeria Police seeking paper documents that are largely forged has no place. If you have no insurance, you are made to park the vehicle or tow it home and not to drive to the Police station.

The laptop computers in Police cars are networked and Police Officers can access the database of the Interpol from their cars. In North Carolina, specifically in Wake County as in other counties, there is a specialized law enforcement agency known as the City-County Bureau of identification that uses a variety of Information technology solutions.

Database Security

Those ignorant of what I call the wonders of Information technology will think about those fire outbreaks gutting petroleum or financial houses and dream about how databases could be destroyed when computers are burnt. Well the sad news for them is that nothing is stored on the physical computer. The servers could be in very remote locations even outside the continent of Africa. Information technology has it’s methods of database security, network security, data recovery and maintaining data integrity across the network or information system.



It depends. There are many variables to be considered in answering this question. The experience with banking is very relevant here when we consider the services rendered by the new generation banks vis-a –vis those of the older banks. The old banks were very slow in adopting information technology. The leadership of today’s Police is still enslaved by colonial mentality. Perhaps, creating new Divisional Commands to deal with municipal policing and with properly trained equipped and officers with a new orientation would suffice. Officers from Commissioner of Police and down to entry-level officers will suffice. The Financial and Economic Crimes Commission would be an example of a new generation Police headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police and the difference is clear in terms of performance. Nigeria can go ahead and expand the Economic Crimes Commission to perform functions like the US FBI and then merge the Federal Highway Patrol with the Federal Road Safety Corps for Highway safety on federal highways. The State Police Commands could be for the purposes of providing support services for Divisional Police Commands.

With Information technology, the required and relevant information is available to the right people at the right time and right place and there are other things needed to act on the information provided such as the right type of police vehicles etc.

A very useful resource to learn more about community policing in the United States and other modern methods of Policing would be to watch the TV documentaries ‘COPS’, ‘Highway Patrol’, ‘911 Rescue’ etcetera are many series of these documentaries which are real live Police action on Tape. Nigerian Broadcast media can help educate Nigerians by airing these on Nigerian channels so that Nigerians know the difference between an old and archaic Police and a modern one and begin to put pressure on their representatives for change. Nigeria is in a self-destructive cycle whereby our Politicians would soon begin to fall victims of an ill equipped and bad Police just like the vast majority of Nigerians.


~ Emmanuel Uzo Obi is an Information Science Specialist and writes from North Carolina



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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.